Electronic Arts has brought another classic videogame back to life. Developer Starbreeze Studios, best known for its first-person shooters like The Darkness and Chronicles of Riddick, has revamped the tactical isometric science fiction game with cutting-edge technology and a brand new twist on the action. Jeff Gamon, the executive producer of Syndicate, talks about what’s in store for gamers and offers some strategic tips in this exclusive interview.
Can you talk about your goals heading into the new version of Syndicate?
The desire for bringing Syndicate back to gaming has been around for many years now and this new Syndicate represents a coming together of many threads. Finding the right developer was a key consideration. Starbreeze has a proven track record for taking existing IP and running with it, creating an extension to that IP rather than just recreating it. EA’s goal was always to bring Syndicate back in a new form; more current and appropriate for the gamers of today. That said, we also wanted something a little different, a challenging twist on established FPS conventions. Starbreeze had what we were looking for in their ability to build high quality titles that are a little out of the ordinary.
Can you discuss your game engine technology and how that has evolved over the years?
We really wanted to push the engine in every way to deliver a visual style and story that would make the player believe they were in the near future of 2069 with a virtual datascape at their fingertips. Starbreeze has cutting edge facial scanning technology and this, along with their amazing facial animation, allowed us to push the story in-engine rather than forcing players to sit through full motion video. We wanted to achieve a strong visual style akin to the classic sci-fi films. To do this, we used effects like real-time optical flares and environmental light leaks to give the view a very cinematic feel. This looks great in the different environments of the bright upzone levels and the darker, neon-lit downzone levels. We also use many other visual effects such as HDR (high dynamic range imaging), depth-of-field and bloom to really make the player feel like they are looking through the eyes of the character.
How did that tech open up new gameplay capabilities for Syndicate?
Probably the Starbreeze AI changes things the most. While not strictly new gameplay, it’s more common for shooters to rely more on scripting rather than let the AI provide the gameplay. We’ve invested heavily in our proprietary AI and when unleashed it is extremely capable for outwitting the best gamers. Great AI enables us to provide different skill levels for players, where it’s the adaptive enemy providing the challenge and not simply a case of the player being able to take less damage or the AI shooting more accurately or with less scatter.
Can you talk about breaching and some of the unique ways that impacts the shooter experience?
Shooters have a fairly established way of playing them. We (gamers) have all got to the point where we can pick up pretty much any FPS and understand it’s rules and controls and win. The breaching in Syndicate adds a new element to the gameplay. Sure, you can play it like a regular shooter but you’ll quickly discover that is no way to win. The Starbreeze AI alone provides more challenge than many FPS contemporaries and you will need to use all your skills as a gamer, combined with strategic use of your breaching abilities to prevail. Co-op takes the dependency on breaching to another level, where it’s the means to keep your team functioning and as you progress through tougher maps, the only way to win.
What are the challenges of bringing something new to the very crowded shooter genre?
It starts with the desire to actually make something a little different rather than try to follow convention. Much of Syndicate will feel familiar to any FPS gamer. Even though we wanted to shake things up a little we also wanted to make sure our core shooter experience was a good as we could possibly make it. Set in a near future cyberpunk world Syndicate offers a mix of what you might call, ‘conventional’ ballistic weapons but also some cool but credible future weaponry as well; weapons such as the Gauss Rifle and Thermite gun, inspired by the original. We also raised the bar with AI meaning we can move away from heavily scripted scenarios and lean more on the enemy adapting to individual play styles. The last part is the breaching; on paper it’s really simple, effectively another fire button. The beauty of the system though becomes apparent very quickly as players discover how it can change the course of an encounter but also how it changes the way they think about playing an FPS.
How do you feel the Syndicate experience will push this genre forward?
It’s too early to say. I hope that it’s well received and maybe shows that there are other ways to approach established conventions and still room for a little innovation even in the most established and contested genres.
Can you break down the multiplayer experience gamers will get with Syndicate?
We chose to release one of the four player co-op levels as our demo because we felt that this best represented the pillars of the game -- a great shooting experience, reliant on effective use of breaching and faithful to the spirit of the original game. The multiplayer experience in Syndicate is a completely separate campaign from the single player, offering far more than just a ‘mode.’ There are nine maps and three difficulty levels and at each level the map plays out slightly differently. The co-op mode is based on the original game; four agents raiding enemy bases to assassinate personnel, steal technology or simple destroy all resistance. During the course of a mission, agents rip technology from the heads of fallen enemies, providing blueprints to be researched. The blueprints unlock and upgrade weapons, chip upgrades and breach applications, allowing the player to customize how their agents as he levels up.
What’s your favorite weapon and why?
It has to be the coil rifle, i.e. the laser. Used right, it’s fantastically powerful and results in carnage.
What’s your favorite breach and why?
I get asked this one a lot and my answer is always the suicide app. Sure, it’s a good tactical breach for taking out enemies in cover or at long range, but occasionally you get a great payoff as well when a breached enemy detonates a grenade surrounded by his comrades.
What tips can you give to gamers who pick up this game?
Remember to use breaching. You will quickly get into the swing of it anyway, but playing co-op in particular, the agent who best supports the rest of the team by keeping them alive using his breaching will do well on points and research experience.
For more tips on Syndicate, plus an in-depth walkthrough, check out the Syndicate Prima Official eGuide here.